Findings from Rudi Dallos and Penny Comley Ross, who interviewed mentored young people regarding their experiences, are summarised below.

Good Person

  • Young people reported that their mentors were invariably kind and warm towards them, not only present but involved and interested in the young people with whom they worked.

  • Young people felt the voluntary nature of the mentor’s presence was important. Believing that their mentor was a good person, young people who felt themselves worthless had their low self-worth challenged: as the visits continued, young people began to feel that they must not be so bad if someone they felt good continually chose to visit them and enjoyed the time spent.

Relationship

  • Young people felt the relationship was different to those in their experience. They found their mentor would share confidences and concerns as a friend, whereas confidences shared with professionals quickly became known to others. This eroded young peoples’ trust in professionals and reinforced feelings of being different from peers not in care.

  • Young people felt they had found someone who was on their side and willing to support them unconditionally and exclusively. Where professionals might make support conditional on behaviour or progress and be occasionally unavailable, mentors retained the sole focus on one young person. As a result, young people felt insulated each week from family arguments, pending case reviews, accommodation difficulties or other worries.

Attachment

  • Beginning to believe in someone who believed in them, young people began to form increasing strong attachments with their mentors. They believed their mentors cared about them personally, accepted them for who they were, and felt secure that mentors would take occasional distress seriously. Most importantly, young people realised they could rely on their mentors without threatening the strength of the relationship, reinforcing the feeling of security.

  • The attachment formed with the mentor was flexible enough to change and grow as the needs and maturity of the young person evolved. Unequal and dependent at first, most mentoring relationships evolved naturally into secure friendships, proving to young people that relationships could change and still thrive.

Trust

  • Young people felt mentors uniquely trustworthy. Often freer to do so than statutory workers, mentors reassured young people not only in conversation but by spending extra time with them when most needed.  Mentors strengthened trust by directly supporting their child or young person, at all hours and in all circumstances, in instances of violence, economic hardship or emotional trauma, something of which professionals were not always consistently capable.